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It’s been one month and I already feel like I have been planning for three years. Let me tell you a secret – being frugal is not easy. Since we don’t have the option to just pick whatever looks good, we have to spend that much more time researching and analyzing and making spreadsheets and weighing the pros and cons. It can get a bit overwhelming, but then you realize it’s just one day and your mom brings you back down to earth and everything is fine again.

As of today, we have not decided on a venue. We are leaning most towards Bunker Hills, but they only book one year out, to the day. So until September, we are kind of on pause.

Over the endless research we’ve done so far, here’s a few secrets we have found to save money when searching for a venue. If you have any other tips or tricks you’d like to share, please do!


Hourly Rates

I discovered Bunker Hills Activity Center as a reception venue from X. The venue touted itself as being a very affordable place to host a wedding reception. This was about two hours into research session number 982323, so I was a little skeptical. I had found thus far that my idea of affordable is slightly different than the wedding venues’.

Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised with Bunker Hills and their rates are extremely reasonable. This is largely due to the fact that they charge by the hour. Now, this won’t work for someone who really does need the entire day. At $130.00 per hour, this can get quite expensive if you need to rent for 20+ hours.

One of my biggest concerns was having enough time to decorate and set-up. What they can do is charge you for an hour at the overnight price ($50.00 per room) in the morning and then close up the building and reopen it in the afternoon when you’re ready to go.

Our tentative timeline would look something like this:

7:00 – 8:00 a.m.: Decorate, decorate and decorate some more. If you aren’t incredibly organized, have quite a few helping hands and can easily delegate jobs, this option may not be the best for you. This does require you to have everything ready to go and jobs already pre-assigned so people can get in and get out within the hour time frame. I didn’t ask if we could keep it open for longer, but our contact made it seem like an hour was the limit.

8:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.: Activity Center closed

2:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. Activity Center open, dance ends at 11:00.

11:00 p.m. – 12:00 p.m.: Clean, clean and clean some more. Guests are responsible for making sure all the trash is picked up and the rooms are clean. We do not have to worry about taking out the trash, just making sure everything gets to the bin.

If this is the option we go with, the total cost (without tax and all the other crap they add on) would be: $1400. That’s ten hours at $130 and $100 for the morning decorating.


Bring Your Own Caterer

Back in 2009 when my sister got married, their per-plate cost was around $14. Her wedding was in January at a hotel in South Saint Paul. Back then, this was on the expensive side. Oh how times have changed in seven years.

Nowadays, the average per-person cost seems to be the mid-twenties and that doesn’t even include appetizers, late-night snacks or dessert. Let’s just follow this train of though. At $25 per person and there are, say, 200 guests, that’s $5000. Not to mention the 45% gratuity they tack on, plus the service charge, plus the transportation fee, plus wanting the blood of our first born child.

What we have found is that being able to bring in your own food is the absolute best way to go. There is a huge variety of caterers offering a plethora of food types to satisfy anyone’s wants and needs that also comes at a reasonable price.

The one asterisk I’d like you to watch out for is that some places charge for table linens and silverware and napkins and glasses and anything else you need to eat on, which ultimately brings up the cost. So look to see what is included and what you have to supply yourself or rent from them.

Also keep in mind that some venues rent out the extras also and might be cheaper than the caterer. I can’t stress enough that price comparing is your absolute best friend. It can be a pain in the arse but it is so worth it when you find out that caterer A charges $9 per table linen and your venue charges $5.

We haven’t tested any of the food, but based off the prices I was quoted, here are a few other great options.

  • The Picnic Pleasers They were the least expensive at $11.50 per person and featured, you guessed it, traditional picnic food.
  • Classic Catering Is under the same umbrella as The Picnic Pleasers and their classic dinner was $14.95.
  • Kanes Catering Their least inexpensive option is $14.00 per person which allows you to choose four items from their menu.
  • We Cater to You Their BBQ option starts at $15.50 per person and includes traditional BBQ fare like pulled pork and coleslaw.


Self-Host the Bar

I am going to go ahead and just tell you right now that alcohol sucks. And it sucks for two reasons: the caterers who also offer bar service charge an astronomical amount. $325 for a keg of beer is absolutely ridiculous. It also sucks because you can’t not have it. I think my family would disown me if I was even starting to entertain the idea of not having any booze. Why do people go to weddings? For the free beer and to dance their asses off. So, alcohol is a non-negotiable.

Which brings me to my tip – find a place that lets you bring it in yourself. You have to get private event insurance and depending on the location, you may also need a cop on duty. But the most important part here is that you will save hundreds on the alcohol. A case of Fanzia is what, $15? The average case of wine I found was $28.

We are still planning on hiring a bartender – I thought we’d throw the ask out there to our friends and see if anyone wants to make a few extra bucks that night. However, this option may not be for you if you don’t want that responsibility and don’t want to have to be responsible for other people’s alcohol consumption. I believe that is what private event insurance is for, but you shouldn’t use that as a crutch.


All-in-One Ceremony & Reception

Brett and I do not belong to a church, so we started looking into having our ceremony and reception in one place. For those who don’t belong to a church, this may be a better way to go. Along with looking into an all-in-one, I also sent out a few emails and made some calls to several churches that are in close vicinity to Bunker Hills Activity Center. All of the churches said we had to be members before they would host our wedding.

To rent the church for the actual ceremony, the most expensive was $500, plus we had to pay for a mandatory weekend retreat (they did not specify the price).

Whether or not going all-in-one is better financially will of course depend on the church, but you may want to consider doing everything in one place simply because it is more convenient for you guests.


Go for the Package

If you can’t bring in your own caterer, ask if the venue if they have any packaged options. Northern Lights Ballroom and Banquet Center in Princeton, MN offers three different event packages which include appetizers, a buffet for dinner and late night snacks. Their most inexpensive level, Sapphire, costs just $19.95 per person.

Individually, their traditional buffet costs $16.95, the appetizers/late night snacks range from $39.95 to $98.95 per 50 people.

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There are a lot of moving pieces to think about when planning a wedding. We’ve just scratched the surface, but already I feel like there is a lot to consider and think about. I hope these tips help you save a few bucks when planning your big day!

All our best,


  1. Linda Wittman

    Wow, being I never had a big wedding, this is all new to me. The only thing I can say is that is expensive and time consuming. I guess you need to start way ahead. Good luck with your planning and everything else you have going on!!!!!

    • Kelly

      Thank you! We hope starting early will help with budgeting and be a little less stressful ????


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